File puptcrit/puptcrit.0502, message 127

To: <>,
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2005 02:04:21 -0500
Subject: [Puptcrit] Puppet Improv article

albumHi all. I haven't contributed to the list in a while, and this is something close to my heart, so here goes.

Puppet Improv,
a short article (read LONG in the vocabulary of the internet)
by Mathieu René

Reasons for starting a Puppet Improv League in your area:
-It's fun!
-It's virtually stress-free!
-It's a great way to meet collegues (face it, we don't get that many puppet events besides festivals and shows, when we do have time to go)
   and even possibly recruit new puppeteers...
-Amazing ground for testing new material, new puppets, new props...and get instant feedback from collegues and uninhibited people from the public (some drink, LoL)
-Efficient way to attract a new public
-Interesting way to promote puppetry to the general public. The more visible we are, the more the art will stay alive.

If you do not have the time to start your own league, try convincing the younger generations, from theatre schools, for instance.
We have seen a lot of enthousiasm and interest from them in our area.
Schools are often the breeding ground for new activities. No matter how much they complain, they have LOTS of time when they are still in school...

Here is my report:
Tonight I went to see a night of improvisation with puppets. It is the first Official game. There has been single night like this before, but we felt a need to make it more regular.

The league is called MOMI (pronounced Mummy)
Which mean, in french, "Manipulation d'Objets et Marionnettes Improvisés).
If you were to call it in english, may I suggest: IMOP or "I MOP" (Improvised Manipulation of Objects and Puppets)
Wouldn't it be great if your league was called like that? we could be sister leagues, and do collaborations!

Unlike regular improv, we have a host(a very volubile puppet)  and (eventually) a huge stack of puppets to choose from. Our players take things seriously. Even when totally goofing off, it is goofing off with grace and style (uh-hum, not all the IS in a bar, at night...)
Check out your local puppet events, for I predict this will be more than a passing trend.
If you'd like to make your own league, read on, here is what I can express in writtten form, any way.

The league was made because it's fun, there was a lot of interest after a first try, and to be yet another great way to promote puppetry to a wider audience, which is the mandate of our puppeteer's association. By the way, if you ever come to Montreal, or to the province of Quebec, in Canada, contact our association to see if there is anything puppet related during your stay.
We are not promoters, but we have information.
We do hire puppeteers to come and give puppet workshops a few times a year, depending on the funding we get.
The workshops are either in performing or building puppets of all types.

I have inside info for you!
I helped install the stage and puppet area, since it is organised by my puppeteer's association of which I am a member of admin council.
I'm also a player, but I play on the bench (meaning I get to play when someone from the regular teams is missing). Too many players wanted to play, so they had to make 4 teams, and keep a reserve.

The setup is simple.
The players: people who come from either the Theatre, Puppetry, or Improv. Thay all love puppets, and want to learn more.
The collaborators: we have a comitee of a few people who get togrether to discuss the project, and make decisions.
Our association's coordinator does all the tough work, and he does it very efficiently indeed!
We have players who do all they can to help with the functionning.
The host even made 75 two-sided simple fun foam hand puppets, so the public can vote for the best team for each sketch (one side blue, one side white).
LIVE music: We have a keyboard player, who also composed the League's theme music. He really enhances the moods, sometimes even imposing them, when the category calls for it.
And of course, we have a referee, who has a lot of interaction with the host puppet. The dynamic is efficient and often hilarious.

Entrance fee (mostly used to pay expenses and buy more puppets of found objects) is only 5 $ (canadian).
The games happen once a month.
The 5 dollars is even an integral part of the theme song!

The physical setup:
We have a raised stage (regular kind you see in bars).
On it, at the center front,  we have a table covered in black fabric. Great for all kinds of table top action, and even some hand puppets, when puppeteers want to play in difficult kneeling positions.
Hanging from the ceiling, on two chains, is a black curtain, which serves as a puppet booth (puppeteers hide behind, puppets appear on top).
There is a wooden dowel (could also be a broomstick) running through a loop on top of the curtain, to make a strong "floor" at the top of the curtain. From the dowel, screw-eyes are installed, and that's where the chains hold on to hang the curtain in the air (there are pipes already on the ceiling) There is a window of black screen to enable the puppeteers to see through the curtain, for when the action happens both on this and the table .

There are microphones, 2 behind the curtain (on stands) and two under the table(on mini stands). Some are unidirectionnal, some are multi.
The host puppet forces her puppeteer to wear a wireless mike (rental).
They really help with clarity. This is a bar where people can be noisy sometimes even though they are usually very quiet during this kind of show. You never know what could happen!

We also have standard lighting (supplied by the bar, fully equipped because they are really into concerts and various cultural events.

How we prop the puppets awaiting to be used:
Until we can build a more permanent organising system:
The puppets are placed on a table behind the curtain. Some rod puppets stand up on some mike stands behind that table, and some in milk crates turned upside down.  Right now, we are forgetting some puppets, buried under others, and some even fall behind the table during the "feeding frenzy". Tonight I installed a temporary "clothesline" across the back of the stage, to hold some accessories.
As a solution, I'm thinking about a hanging wall curtain, with big pockets and loops of fabric and seamstress elastics, and velcro loops, to be able to hold all types of puppets and props, neatly, all visible at once. Anybody here has simpler suggestions?
The simplest I could think of was a hammoc, but I'm fearing entanglement and chaos.
Where the puppets are, we have weak lighting to be able to see them. It also enables the public to see some of what is going on backstage, which does not distract from what is happening on stage, as all our attention is focused on the action.

The puppets: anything of any style or quality we have at our disposition. From dollar store crap to high quality crafted masterpieces. Individuals lend us puppets, and we hope to convince companies to do so as well, and to donate older puppets they have retired, giving them a second life. Which is better than to let them decay in cases, forgotten.

We also use a lot of found objects. Their interaction as puppets or as props never cease to amaze.
Youd' be surprised at how emotionnal a circulation cone can be, or how efficient it can look, as a gian beer mug, regardless of its weird shape.

I'm trying to push my suggestion to use a minimum amount of simple scenery elements. A black background is great for it's limitless qualities, but I love to see a puppet inhabit a world within which it can live and interact. So far, all we have used (with great efficiency in some cases) is the puppeteer's body, some pieces of fabric (as ground cover, or extra "walls", or smoke, or spirit, or flame), and sometimes some props are used as scenery.

Since you can't jusy suggest if you want thing to change...
To encourage the movement, I'll build simple foam wall pannels (some neat, some decaying brick walls), mounted on a thin wooden base, with added weights for stability.

I get to lend my puppets and masks, and they are always appreciated.
Tonight was the best of those improv nights, with great ideas and delivery of subjects and emotions.
Less erratic puppet shaking of the begginings, most was a good striving for convincing action. Less bla-bla, more visual and silence.

My puppets were honored to be chosen a lot of times, and I am proud to say the puppet that was most used was my new alien prototype. He's made of only newpspaper and tape(duct tape for the joints), so that's why I haven't posted a pic yet on my website.
I'm still hesitating between making him in paper mache, or leaving him as is, but covering him with masking tape in a more even manner.
I love the look of masking tape, even though it implies a lot of repairs overtime.
I'm very happy with what the players did with him, and the comments I got helped me conclude he passed the test with flying colors.

One of my old puppets was dismembered during a very physical karate scene. His foot was pulled off! But the player just kept the movement from being a problem, and used the foot as a detacheable projectile weapon, that comes back in place when called...
It was hilarious. I'm glad it happened, it gave me the idea how to re-enforce the limbs for next time it will break. And it will, the limbs are made of insulating polyethylene foam (dark grey foam backing rods for lining windows). This stuff is highly flexible, but when pulled, it eventually has a tearing point. Sometimes you got to keep the material for its unique qualities despite the fragility(only when used in a rough manner, which it wasn't designed to withstand).
See the old puppet at

Over all, it was a great evening, with good comments and compliments from people about my puppets.
It feels even more "real" when it comes from collegues of the world of puppetry, who I admire for they great skills either as a puppetmaker or a puppeteer.

So, next time you see an event like this (it's bound to become very popular), offer to lend them your puppets!
If you need even more info on how the puppet improv league (MOMI) works, you can contact the puppeteer's association at: Our coordinator is called Stephane Guy. There is a comitee that works on the League.

Have great puppet Fun!

Mathieu René Créaturiste
Marionnettes, Masques, Etcetera...
Puppets, Masks, Etcetera...
(514) 274-8027
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